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Christopher Nelson: Eisa – Drumming, Dancing and Memory

September 25, 2020 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm  |  Virtual Event


With the beginning of the 2020 – 2021 school term on the near horizon the OMI team is delighted to announce their next program!

Professor Chris Nelson (UNC Chapel Hill) will be joining OMI to discuss Eisa, Obon, dancing and cultural memory in contemporary Okinawa. Professor Nelson is an anthropologist who published a study of Eisa called Dancing with the Dead: Memory, Performance and Everyday Life in Post-War Okinawa (Duke University Press, 2008).

OMI Director Alan Christy will lead the conversation with Professor Nelson, exploring his study and discussing one of Okinawa’s key cultural traditions.


Christopher T Nelson is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina. The central theme of his research has been the transformational possibilities of everyday life. His recent book Dancing with the Dead: Memory, Performance, and Everyday Life in Postwar Okinawa takes up this question, building on several years of fieldwork that he carried out in Okinawa, Japan. Through ethnographic and archival research, he explored traditional forms of social organization and genres of ritual and performance. He studied the work of ethnographic comedians, whose performances weave Okinawan folk humor, Japanese traditional monologues and improvisational storytelling into sophisticated critiques of everyday life. He also worked with the youth group from which these performers emerged. In particular, he examined their eisaa—dance for the dead—and its mediation of social relationships. His book provides close readings of these performances, focusing on modalities of mourning, memoration and creative action.

His current research project is focused on creative actors who were able to struggle against the constraints of the modern world in order to carve out a moment for meaningful activity. While he remains committed to the possibilities of daily life, he feels it is also important to consider those for whom the burden of the everyday becomes unbearable. His new project Listening to the Bones: The Rhythms of Life and Death in Contemporary Japan takes up this problem. It involves the study of early Okinawan ethnologists such as Iha Fuyû; an ethnography of efforts to recover the remains of the Japanese war dead; as well as a critical exploration of Okinawan photography and experimental film. He is interested in the ways in which people negotiate the vortex of local knowledge, Japanese nativist ethnology, western anthropology and discourses of the state.


September 25, 2020
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm